Chris Moore’s The Hoarse Oath of Fife tells the story of Kenny, a veteran of the First World War, who relives his harrowing experiences at the Battle of Loos. His story is told through the eyes of the narrator dubbed ‘College’, a student at St Andrews, for which Kenny affectionately mocks him. The relationship between the young naïve student and the hardened Scottish farmer is unexpectedly charming and heartwarming.
The writing style of the book is quite like the book itself, in that it is matter of fact and not overly flowery: it does not seek to overtly romanticise anything. Not that this is in any way unappealing; like the plot, it takes time to charm you, with a charm is truly very unassuming, simple and honest.
The book was extremely thought provoking. One of the major reasons for this was the emphasis that it placed on the theme of time and the perspective on the war, without making out the war to be in any way ‘great’. Kenny’s description of the blindness that ensued when the gas marks were worn highlights the chaos of the conflict. Confusion over the enemy, the utter uselessness of management; all of these elements convey the historiographical perception of the war. It does not attempt to hide the fact that it was a senseless massacre of innocent young men, which served no real purpose and was no help to the cause.
Scotland has been recognised in history for its honourable efforts as part of the International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War. Moore sheds light on the charity of others in wartime through the role that Muslims or ‘Muzzie boys’ played in the war efforts, along with other nationalities. He praises their massive sacrifice to the Allies and how society at large is unaware of their existence.
There is a particularly moving moment when Kenny goes with College to northern France. Upon seeing the identical, nameless graves, each engraved with the statement ‘A good reputation will never die’, the narrator is infuriated. Of Muslim heritage, the callous lack of recognition given to these men, including his own father who died in service to England.
More stark surprises come when the pair visits the Western Front in the sixties. Their visit highlights the lack of glorification that we see today; that the glorification of artefacts and places of the First World War is evidently a modern movement. Even the Graveyard’s visitor book is proof of this, as it reveals they are the first to visit in months.
A defining theme in the book is the cyclical nature of time and lives. Kenny looking around and remembering the past is mirrored in College’s later life. He brings his grandson back up to Fife, where he walks around an almost unrecognisable scene to the one he left, trying to piece back together what happened. The parallels between College telling his grandson stories of his youth in the same way that Kenny did the same with him fifty years ago is compelling. The passing of time and how it affects us all is perhaps why The Hoarse Oaths of Fife is so touching, relatable and thoroughly enjoyable to read.
The Hoarse Oaths of Fife by Chris Moore (Uniform Press, 2015)
Photo credit: Stuart Westwater